New Jillaroo A Shining Light
We often stop to question the validity of athletes as role models.
Why someone so talented in their particular field of endeavour should be considered a moral compass from which young people should take their bearing.
What happens on the field/court has no relativity to how an individual lives their life yet in a modern society obsessed with celebrity it has become harder and harder to differentiate one from the other.
Simone Smith, however, is not your average role model.
Long before she was even aware that there was such a thing as an Australian women's rugby league representative team that went by the name of 'Jillaroos' and before she knew what career path she wanted to go down, Smith knew one thing: she wanted to set an example.
Like so many young Indigenous women with sporting aspirations Smith's idol is Bo de la Cruz, the dual-code Australian representative who brought her talents to the Indigenous Women's All Stars team in February, leading her team to their first win against the Women's All Stars team in Newcastle in which Smith was named player of the match.
But Smith's desire to influence people – in particular her people – for good stretches beyond the sporting field and into the critical arm of health and welfare.
Normally employed in her home town of Port Macquarie as an Aboriginal health worker in the drug and alcohol division, Smith has stepped up into a role the past three months as the Aboriginal liaison at Port Macquarie Base Hospital where she can be required to attend to the needs of as many as 40 admissions a day.
Named to make her Jillaroos debut at halfback this Friday, the opportunity for Smith to influence young women who may also aspire to reach such heights is merely the extension of an innate desire she has always harboured to help others.
"Ever since I grew up I used to always get asked what I wanted to do. I never had an actual career in mind but my passion was to always be a positive role model and help other young Indigenous people and all younger people to live a healthy life," Smith told NRL.com.
"I've always just wanted to be a motivational speaker and role model to young people. That's what my passion has always been and how I feel in my roles that I do now.
"I always want to do what is best for the community and I always want to share my knowledge that I've learned to people coming through, the next generation.
"I'm very passionate about my people especially and that's why I enjoy working in the drug and alcohol scene because it is something that is a big thing in Indigenous cultures and something I really want to support our culture around. Living a really healthy lifestyle and turning away from drugs and alcohol.
"In our Indigenous culture we don't live for as long as non-Indigenous people do and that's about closing the gap. It's just something I've always been really passionate about and in my role I feel I'm doing that.
"It's just all those social attributes I want to help in our indigenous communities. I just always wanted to be a positive role model, especially for young indigenous women."
And her inspiration, funnily enough, came from a sportswoman in De La Cruz, who has represented Australia in both rugby union and touch football and now a mentor with the Beyond the Broncos Indigenous Girls Academy.
"When I grew up I was a massive fan of Bo de la Cruz. She played with us in this All Stars game so that meant a lot to us as well," Smith said.
"She's always been someone that a lot of the Indigenous girls have looked up to. When I met her, she blew me away.
"She always did what I want to do for young girls, inspired us and made us really chase our dreams hard and motivated us to really do well.
"She's a great asset to sport and young Indigenous women and that's the sort of person I want to be. Someone that can encourage other young Indigenous women to be the best that they can be."
After a starring role in last year's Women's All Stars game at Suncorp Stadium, Smith was invited into the Jillaroos camp for the Test against the Kiwi Ferns and had to withdraw from the New South Wales team for the Interstate Challenge due to work commitments and her Diploma of Counselling studies that she hopes will allow her to soon become a social worker.
Restricted to playing in the Group 3 women's league tag competition because a 13-a-side competition for women doesn't yet exist, Smith's exposure to rugby league prior to 2017 has come purely through the annual Koori Knockout and the All Stars fixture.
This year she has linked with the Newcastle Knights women's nines side that played after the NRL game between the Sharks and Knights in Round 5 and represents a new wave of Indigenous women pushing their way into the national team.
Smith, Caitlin Moran and Rebecca Young were members of the Indigenous Women's All Stars team that won in Newcastle who are in Brad Donald's squad to face the Kiwi Ferns in Canberra on Friday, Smith seeing it as a new way in which she can influence people.
"It's good now that we're setting the standard higher and setting the pathways for the Indigenous girls coming through to get a shot in the Jillaroos," Smith said.
"It's something that we wanted to do, set a standard and create a pathway and show other young Indigenous girls that this opportunity can be in their hands as well."
This article first appeared on NRL.com